(Breather) This is a pretty important topic, and it’s something we all deal with daily. I talk through some great articles on the subject and offer a bunch of personal insights about stuff I do well, as well as the stuff I really suck at!
In part 1, I talk about the positive things I have going in my daily routine, and in Part 2, I get into the stuff I struggle with, and ideas we can all use to make things better. This all started with a great article written by Nir Eyal for Medium.com. Researchers say our ability to pay attention is equal parts focusing and ignoring. Irrelevant information bogs down our ability to suppress distraction, especially as we age. So, in order to increase our ability to focus, researchers suggest both boosting our ability to concentrate as well as reducing distraction. How do you reduce your chances of being distracted?
- Use one screen, one browser window, and one computer program at a time.
- Keep your physical and virtual desktop tidy.
To increase your ability to concentrate:
- Exercise, meditation, and spending time in nature may help boost cognitive control.
- Some cognitive exercises and immersive action video games also seem to improve our ability to focus.
Julie Morgenstern, author of the book Never Check Your Email In The Morning, told the Huffington Post that when you check your email (or notifications) first thing in the morning, “you’ll never recover.” In other words, much like Harris explained in his post for Thrive Global, your focus is pretty much shot when you begin your day with your eyes glued to your phone — or, at least, your focus won’t be what it could have been, if you’d only started your day off differently. Morgenstern explained, “It’s hard to go from your transactional, shallow part of your brain, the frontal cortex, to the other parts of your brain where strategy happens and relationships happen. It’s easier to start in the deep recesses of your brain and go to the shallow parts.” Basically, Morgenstern is saying that your mind sort of goes all over the place when you scan your email or notifications as soon as you wake up, and it can leave you feeling directionless and overwhelmed as you move forward with your day. But if you start off with something important and focused in the morning, Morgenstern explained, you’ll be well on your way to feeling, as well as actually being more productive.
Get motivated to get focused and take action on the digital distraction problem. [05:17]
As we get older, we have less ability to filter out distraction. [07:40]
Brad highly recommends to stay on top of your digital world. [09:55]
The cloud is the safest way to organize your stuff. [10:49]
Looking at stuff cluttering around your house or desk provokes flight or fight reaction. [14:25]
Exercise, meditation and spending time in nature may help boost cognitive control. [16:02]
Looking at artificial scenery such as your screensaver of the beautiful oceans and mountains and deserts, natural scenery or putting up a print in your office of nature has a similar response in the brain to being in real nature. [18:47]
Never check your email in the morning. [20:17]
You need to find ways to advocate for yourself and do something proactive even in your busy day. [26:37]
- Hyperconnectivity article
- Medium.com: website with worthwhile articles on various topics
- Nir Eyal
- Evernote: organizing program
- “Never Check Email in the Morning”
- Brad Kearns Morning Routine
- Brad Kearns cold therapy
- Wim Hof
LISTEN:Download Episode MP3
Get Over Yourself Podcast
Brad: 00:00 .Welcome to the get over yourself podcast. This is author, an athlete, Brad Kearns, discovering ways to be healthy, fit, and happy in hectic, high-stress, modern life. So let’s slow down and take a deep breath. Take a cold plunge and expertly balanced that competitive intensity with an appreciation of the journey. That’s the theme of the show. Here we go.
Brad: 05:17 Greetings. Listeners, if you’ve been listening to many shows, you will know that I’m about to talk about one of my favorite subjects or most painful subjects. However you wanna define it. Yes. The importance of overcoming digital distraction and staying focused and productive and managing your stress levels in high tech, hyper connected modern life. So I have an assortment of tidbits, articles, content to discuss with my own personal observations. Hopefully it will inspire and motivate you to get focused and take action on this disastrous problem. Yes, I’m looking at all the health challenges that we have, not enough daily movement. We sit at our desk too long. Oh my gosh. We’re eating this nasty processed food. It’s still in the human diet. For some reason, the corporate powerhouses that are spewing this stuff are still surviving. They’re hanging on by a thread. Some of them are buying up smaller companies that make healthy products in order to, uh, have a better chance at making a profit, ahem, anyway. Yeah, we got issues all around, but one of the biggest ones that I see is the influence of, uh, advancing technology on our daily lifestyle habits. Stress levels, attention span, uh, ability to be happy, balanced, fulfilled, all that stuff.
Brad: 06:42 And there was a great article on medium.com it’s worth paying the 50 bucks a year to go have unlimited access to this wonderful portal called medium. And apparently it’s uh, an assortment of contributors. Like anyone can write the articles and the popular people get more votes, I assume they get paid more if you give them a thumbs up at the end of the article. So it’s an interesting forum and they write on all different kinds of topics and then the stuff you read, if it’s about relationships or health and diet and they send you suggestions examples by email. So go check out medium.com and there’s an article written by someone named Nir Eyal last name E Y A L on this topic of, uh, digital distraction and some of the comments to start out this show with researchers say that our ability to pay attention as equal parts focusing and ignoring irrelevant information bogs down our ability to suppress distraction, especially as we get older.
Brad: 07:40 Ouch. Okay. So the young kids can focus more than the older folks. Isn’t that interesting? I was talking to some gaming friends of mine in their, uh, early twenties, uh, to, uh, early thirties, uh, playing the, a massive multi player online media games like Fortnite and the other super popular ones. And I noticed a recent newspaper article where, uh, I believe it was a, uh, uh, 18 year old kid won $3 million, first prize, a 13 year old won 900,000 for third prize. And the guy who came second UCLA graduate, Yay Bruins. Uh, he won 1 million bucks, 1.7 million bucks and he’s 24 years old and they were calling him Grandpa at the tournament. And this guy acknowledged and uh, it’s widely acknowledged that the younger players have an advantage because they have quicker reflexes and I guess a better ability to focus on this incredibly fast moving information and inputs that happen, uh, that are, uh, uh, very, uh, irrelevant to your competency in these video games, uh, at the tournament professional level.
Brad: 08:50 So, wow, isn’t that wild? Anyway, so as we get older, we have less ability to filter out distraction. So to increase our ability to focus back to Eyal article reach serves or suggests, boosting our ability to concentrate as well as reducing distraction. Some ideas from the author of the article use one screen, one browser window and one computer program at a time. Ooh, I like that. Interesting. So you have to go through the laborous a manner of adding a tab to your Google chrome, launching up Microsoft Excel when you’ve been working in Microsoft word or what have you. Very interesting. Never heard of that before. Um, keep your physical and virtual desktop tidy. Oh yes. I’m big on this because I wouldn’t say I’m the most anal tidy guy. I’m a little more freewheeling in general everyday life. But I noticed as I’ve become older that I so despised wasting time and wasting energy and want to get the most bang for my buck every single day.
Brad: 09:55 And a lot of my motivation is, uh, being able to be productive and organized enough to carve out more free time to go and have fun and play speed golf. Uh, get, get out on the river and Jet Ski, play around with my dogs outdoors, enjoy nature, enjoy, uh, personal time with friends, family, all that great stuff. That’s part of life. But then if you’re feeling the pressure and the stress that you haven’t gotten a fork done because you wasted too much time, uh, looking for lost documents. There’s a widely cited statistic that the average American office worker spends, I think it was 200 hours a year. Remember a 2000 hour year, his full time job, 40 hours a week times 50 weeks, I think it was 200 hours a year looking for lost documents out. 10% of American productivity is looking for shit we can’t find.
Brad: 10:49 And so many things I’m not good at. One of them is, uh, keeping that email inbox at bay while I’m trying to, uh, deliver on, uh, peak performance tasks, uh, on my computer. But one thing I have to say I’m really good at and highly recommend is stay on top of your digital world. So your desktop with your things that you downloaded, file those things away, delete things that are unimportant. One thing that I’ve transitioned to in recent years very successfully is an almost all digital existence. So all of my notes and to do list items and whatever they used to be in the old times, a index cards, spiral notebooks, a second spiral notebook, cause I forgot where the first spiral notebook was. All of these inputs have now been organized in a digital manner. So I really work hard to stay on top of that, maintain that every day.
Brad: 11:43 I have the notes program, the Yellow, uh, program that’s part of the apple operating system. And the great thing about that is it, uh, syncs over from your, uh, mobile device onto your desktop, the exact same notes. So if you type a note into your phone at the store, uh, buy some more of those pomegranates, it goes onto your desktop. And it really helps me, uh, have the information at my fingertips at all times. So anything that’s in written form, I will put it into a document on Evernote. One of the greatest programs you might have heard of that. I think there’s something like 25 million people use this program called Evernote. Uh, but it’s just a, uh, organizing notes program where you can, uh, uh, make a separate, uh, notebooks like folders and then a notes inside the notebooks. But the great thing about it is, uh, it’s completely searchable.
Brad: 12:36 So I have over 300 different notes and documents in Evernote and I can type in any word. For example, if I type in speed golf world record, every single mention of that phrase will pop up in the search result. Every document that contains that phrase, and I can immediately navigate to someone’s name or a product name. Oh my gosh, it’s great. It’s like a Google search for your own desktop and your own notes. And then of course, organizing the notes. Everything I do on the podcast is, uh, archived in Evernote. So I can see if I’ve talked about something before. Hopefully I’m not repeating myself too much on these shows, but an all digital lifestyle is a really great suggestion. Obviously superior to the filing system and having papers and piles of stuff around your house that you have to go search for. And it takes a little bit of effort.
Brad: 13:28 Uh, I guess it takes a little bit of a separation anxiety when you’re throwing stuff away that are so precious to you, but again, what’s more, uh, safe and secure than something that exists on the cloud? Uh, not that your house is very likely to get burned down anytime soon or someone’s going to break in and steal your important notes that you have in a, uh, a special folder. Uh, but again, looking for stuff, getting confused and having, uh, too many inputs and too much clutter in your daily life is a huge source of stress, oftentimes undetected stress. Uh, there was one study I, uh, noticed when researching the, uh, the new book that Mark Sisson and I are releasing in December of 2019 called “Keto for Life.” And it’s sort of a comprehensive take leveraging your Kido, your fat burning ability into a comprehensive lifestyle strategy for longevity.
Brad: 14:25 So one of the factors of longevity obviously is managing stress, especially, uh, modern forms of, uh, high tech lifestyle stress. And there was a study where, uh, merely looking at a pile of clutter in your house, for example, looking at those, uh, those, uh, clothes over there in the pile or a stack of paperwork, just looking at it provokes a fight or flight reaction. You know, you have to get to those folders and organize them, but you’ve been too busy and this is all at a subconscious level. So just glancing over at shit that needs to get done or shit that’s disorganized can have a stress response in the body. So it’s some serious stuff. It’s the real deal. And we want to declutter your physical environment for sure. And then of course, declutter your digital environment so that when you get on, when you, when you log on to your computer, you have a fighting chance at succeeding.
Brad: 15:21 And that’s about staying on top of things. Maybe you can reference the, uh, 60 second rule and you’ve heard of that. So if you can get something done in 60 seconds, do it. If it’s going to take longer than that, you can add it to your to do list or put it in a prioritized order of the important things to do. But let’s say you’re getting the mail out of the mailbox. A, you can throw away junk mail very quickly, so less than 60 seconds. Ditch that stuff, man. Put it in the shredder pile. Whatever you’re going to do. And then with the important stuff, you’re going to open it and ha, file it away. Take a picture of it. Now some of those apps where you can take a picture of something and file that into, that’ll actually a sink into Evernote, things like that.
Brad: 16:02 I know people do it with their expenses cause I saw the Super Bowl commercial anyway, so an all digital lifestyle, Brad Kearns given you a plug for that. It doesn’t have to work for everybody, but worth thinking about staying organized and on top of your physical and or digital information. So that, uh, going back to the tips from the article, the rest of that was my adlibbing. So back to, um, uh, Eyal who said, keep your physical and virtual desktop tidy. And then I went off to increase our ability to concentrate, exercise, meditation and spending time in nature may help boost cognitive control. Some cognitive exercises and immersive action video games also seem to improve our ability to focus. Isn’t that interesting, especially spending time in nature back to the old time book “Primal Connection” that we, uh, published maybe, uh, nearly 10 years ago now.
Brad: 16:58 Uh, there’s some great research that, uh, gazing at a large body of water, uh, elicits an incredible calming, parasympathetic response. And the reason is, is because the lack of stimulation on a large surface of water is one of the only times in our life that we get to relax our hyper attentiveness and our, uh, natural, uh, vigilance, which is a genetically programmed, uh, obviously a survival instinct. So whenever we heard a rustling in the bushes for the last two and a half million years, we had a potential life or death, circumstance. And so we have to be constantly attuned and attentive to novel changes in our environment. So walking down the street in New York City, you’re going to have a complete immersion into a change and hyper-stimulation with the honking horns and the people passing by you. And the, uh, changing signs in Times Square.
Brad: 17:58 I don’t think there is a better example of hyperstimulation, uh, than getting in Times Square. A couple of years ago, my flight was a little bit delayed time change coming from west coast. And I got in late, uh, took the Uber from the airport to my hotel, which was right off of Times Square. So I think I was at Times Square at about one 30 or two in the morning in New York time. And he get out of the car and you absolutely have no idea what time it was. Might as well have been 7:00 PM 8:00 PM whatever. And it’s just crazy to be out there and kind of thrust into, uh, the most artificial and over stimulatory environment you can imagine anywhere on the planet. Not that it’s not fun to soak it up, spend a little time there, but of course it’s all about balance and decompressing from this, uh, engagement with hyperstimulation.
Brad: 18:47 And that’s what the, uh, being the body of water is all about. That’s why I’m glad I moved to Lake Tahoe, Nevada recently. That’s a pretty big body of water. Pretty awesome gaze with the mountain background. Second deepest lake in North America besides crater lake over 1200 feet deep. Oh yeah. Calm the brain. Looking forward to doing that every single day. Why not when you have that opportunity. But of course we can all make things work in whatever environment we’re in and find, uh, calming behaviors and calming scenery to help us. Did you know other studies, uh, reference that looking at artificial scenery such as your screen saver of the beautiful, uh, oceans and mountains and deserts, whatever’s flashing on there, these natural scenery or putting up a print in your office, a cubicle of nature has a similar response in the brain to being in real nature. Yeah, that’s awesome. Like a miniature little fountain that you can put on your desktop, that running water, the sensation of running water and the sounds and the sight of gazing into your tiny little uh, office fountain can have a similar benefit. So if you can surround yourself with nature imagery and then get out and experience the real thing once in awhile you will chill out and, uh, improve your ability to focus when it’s time to focus.
Brad: 20:17 Moving on to more interesting combinations on this matter. Uh, I have a great and very memorable quote from Julie Morganstern, the author of this book called “Never Check Email in the Morning” referencing the disastrous effects of doing something so simple and innocent of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning. Something that are reported 70 to 80% of Americans do every single morning. First thing we do. How about that for a family feud question, what’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Brad: 20:51 Take a crap. Our survey said DING number one, reach for your Dang phone. The reason I said 70 to 80% is cause I forgot what the article said. And I know something up there. Crazy. Okay, so Julie Morgenstern, uh, in an article in the Huffington Post says, assert that when you check your email in the morning or, uh, look at the notifications that pop up onto your screen, take that shit off. Anyway. People go look for stuff yourself. Don’t allow these intrusions into your life. If you check your phone first thing in the morning, you will quote from the expert. You’ll never recover because you have set your brain up to get into reactive mode rather than the more productive, less stressful proactive mode where you’re in control of your life. Back to the quote from the article, your focus is pretty much shot when you begin your day with your eyes glued to your phone or your focus won’t be what it could have been if you started the day off differently.
Brad: 21:59 Here’s what Morgan says. Quote, it’s hard to go from your transactional, shallow part of your brain, the frontal cortex to the other parts of your brain where strategy happen and relationships happen. It’s easier to start in the deep recesses of your brain and then go to the shallow parts later. So what Morganstern is saying is that your mind goes all over the place when you scan your email and notifications as soon as you wake up. And it can leave you feeling directionless and overwhelmed as you move forward with your day. But if you start off with something important and focused in the morning, Morganstern explains that you’re be well on your way to feeling and being more productive. I am going to weigh in here again, I’m going to tout the areas where I’m strong and totally admit in the most honest and vulnerable manner possible. The areas where I suck, like so many of us can admit.
Brad: 22:54 But in the morning. First thing, and you can see this on youtube, I’m so proud to say this, that I actually do my morning flexibility, mobility, routine every single day without fail. And I’ve been doing so since uh, around the time I published the video, which was early 2017. So what’s that? I’m looking at, um, you know, at least a couple of years, two and a half years of getting out of bed, going down on the ground and doing this, a simple leg drills and core exercises. Uh, one of the most important things for me is just kind of, uh, increasing or improving the foundation from which I launch all my workouts, especially the strenuous workouts like sprinting. So I get this core work and this flexibility drills for my hamstrings and my hip flexors every single morning.
Brad: 23:41 And I really do feel like it’s helped because it only takes 12 minutes. I thought it took five and then when we filmed it and I actually timed it, it takes 12. Isn’t that funny? I just love it so much and it’s so simple and natural to me. I don’t have to think about it. I just get down on the ground and do it. The Youtube video has me doing it in bed, but one day I realized that when you’re doing core exercises and sinking into a mattress, they’re way, way easier than doing it on the ground. So sorry for that, a necessary update. But this is a way, besides the physical benefits of getting more flexible hamstrings, I can also relate that it puts me into that proactive mindset. I count through the sequences, so I do 30 hamstring raises on each side. I do 20 frogs in each direction, et Cetera, et Cetera, and so I can’t really have a phone in my hand doing so much as having a conversation or looking at anything because I’ll lose count and believe me, I’ve tried it before where I am grabbing the phone, maybe someone’s calling or I need to look something up or remember something, but it all happens after I’m done with my simple morning routine.
Brad: 24:46 Don’t even talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee. In this case, my morning coffee is the flexibility mobility drills. And then when I’m home, I immediately descend the stairs down into the chest freezer cold tub for that six minutes. It’s around six minutes these days. Six minute immersion into 36 to 38 degree ice cold water. And I proceed with my sequence of deep diaphragmatic breaths where it’s very much like a meditative experience because I’m focusing entirely on my breath and keeping account up to completing 20 deep diaphragmatic breasts. And when I’m totally focused on my breath, that’s when I can override that sympathetic shock response when you jumping into cold water and really be impervious to cold. So I’m like a mini Wim Hoff experiment. If you haven’t heard of Wim Hoff, they call him the ice man. He’s done some extraordinary feats, uh, overriding scientific, a belief of what the human body is capable of, where he exposes himself to cold temperatures.
Brad: 25:47 And through his breathing drills, he can overcome the usual human reaction to cold. He climbed up to 24,500 feet on mount Everest in shorts and shoes. Nothing else. Uh, he’s been immersed in packed in ice for a Guinness World record time of one hour and 45 minutes. He did it in a central square in Japan amidst all these onlookers. Most people would die somewhere around 30 minutes when they’re packed in ice. Uh, but he was able to do it, uh, with his breathing drill. So I do the mini version, uh, and I’m able to proudly say that I can hang in really cold water every morning. So these are both, uh, proactive activities. Yeah, they take a little time. So if you don’t have what a 20 minutes to spare, uh, advocating for your own health in the morning, cause you’re too busy, uh, acknowledged, that’s fair.
Brad: 26:37 You got little kids, you got this, you got that, you got to get to work, you’ve got to get out in the road. Uh, but at some point during day, if you can find ways to advocate for yourself and do something that’s proactive and deliberate and especially regimented such that you don’t really have to think about it or waste psychic energy, devising a strategy to do it. You just have a patterned behavior that’s habitual, it can have a tremendous effect on your ability to concentrate and manage stress. So that’s my starting out morning rather than picking up my phone, uh, immediately and getting side tracked and believe me, Oh my gosh, when I compare and contrast having the foundation of doing the morning legs routine, a compare and contrast to the Times where I have to react to something, Oh man, I feel out of sorts.
Brad: 27:28 It’s really disturbing and upsetting. And of course, sometimes I am pulled away from whenever it is, uh, for some, uh, emergency reason. I shouldn’t say emergency or urgent reason. Uh, when I do there, my rule is I get to my legs at a later time, so I still knock it off that day and, and has a lot of importance to me, uh, because I’m first of all communicating it in public, but also cause I want to stick to my, uh, my, my streak and my commitment to it. So a fun stuff there. And if you can devise anything, even if it’s five minutes of doing the uh, familiar yoga sun salute stretches where you just wake up, go out onto your balcony porch outdoors, get your feet on the grass for some earthing benefits in connection with the polarity, the magnetism of the earth, and just do a few minutes of short stretching sequences knowing that you’re in control, you’re the boss of your morning. It does have a big difference. Hmm. Why is it so hard? Um, how come Brad sounds like he’s nailing everything now it’s time to talk, get real with you and talk about some of this stuff I really suck at and struggle with and that will happen on the part two breather show of overcoming digital distractions and hyper-connectivity thanks so much for getting this whole thing set up. We will keep the conversation going for sure.
Brad: 28:55 Thank you for listening to the show. We would love your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would also love if you could leave a rating and a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. I know it’s a hassle. You have to go to desktop, iTunes, click on the tab that says ratings and reviews, and then click to rate the show anywhere from five to five stars. And it really helps spread the word so more people can find the show and get over themselves because they need to. Thanks for doing it.